The BSA Lightning was a British BSA 650 cc-class motorcycle made in Birmingham between 1965 and 1972.[4]

BSA Lightning
BSA Lightning cropped.JPG
ManufacturerBSA Motorcycles Ltd, Armoury Road, Small Heath, Birmingham[1][2]
Also calledA65L
Parent companyBirmingham Small Arms Company
Engine654 cc (39.9 cu in) OHV parallel twin
Top speed112 mph (180 km/h)[1]
Power52 bhp (39 kW) @ 7,000 rpm (claimed)[3]
TransmissionFour speed gearbox to chain final drive
BrakesDrum front 8.0 in (200 mm), rear 7.0 in (180 mm)[1]
Wheelbase56 inches (1,400 mm)
Seat height32.3 in (820 mm)
Weight395 lb (179 kg) (dry)
Fuel capacity4 imp gal (18 l; 4.8 US gal)
Oil capacity110 imp fl oz (3,100 ml; 110 US fl oz) engine
18 imp fl oz (510 ml; 17 US fl oz) gearbox
Fuel consumption58 mpg[1]


The BSA Lightning was designed as the all-round sports machine of the 1960s,[5] planned largely for export to the US market [6] to complement the touring Thunderbolt and the later development, the supersports Spitfire. Development of the engine aimed to make it more reliable, quieter and less prone to oil leaks, with top speed sacrificed to improve mid-range and rideability. Nevertheless, with twin carburettors the A65L could still reach 108 mph (174 km/h). Improvements included an oil pressure warning light, but this had a tendency to malfunction, so riders learned to ignore it.[7][better source needed]

A close ratio gearbox combined with a high lift camshaft made for lively acceleration and performance at higher rpm than the standard A65. The bottom gear was a bit high, however, so riders had to learn to slip the clutch up to 10 mph (16 km/h). Above 5000 rpm customers also complained about excessive vibration, with a tendency to weave above 90 mph (140 km/h).[citation needed]

A useful feature was an 'emergency starting' key position for times when the battery was flat to connect the alternator current directly to the ignition coils.[1]

Lightning showing exhaust balance pipe

From 1969 the Lightning was improved with balanced exhaust pipes, redesigned silencer-internals, widened crankcase-half mating faces and a twin leading shoe front brake. When road testing, Motorcycle Sport found the natural cruising speed to be 70 mph (110 km/h), but was impossible to ride comfortably at more 5,500 rpm in the higher gears due to severe vibration, with 6,200 revs repeatedly breaking the headlamp bulb filament; accordingly no top speed runs were attempted.[3]

In 1971, 201 750cc versions, designated the A70L, were also produced for American racing homologation purposes.

In 1972 the BSA Group were in financial difficulties and, in a last attempt to extend the brand life, a new frame was developed for the A65L. As well as raising the seat height to an impractical 33 inches (840 mm), it actually broke during testing at the Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA) test track, marking the end of one of the most successful range of British twin cylinder motorcycles.[8]

A70 LightningEdit

To produce a 750cc machine for AMA Class C racing, BSA lengthened the stroke of Lightning's crankshaft by 11mm to give a displacement of 751cc. 202 A70 Lightning machines were produced to meet the minimum production requirements. All were exported to the US, most to the East Coast distributor in Baltimore.[9]

In popular cultureEdit

Thunderball BSA LightningEdit

A fully faired gold-painted BSA Lightning fitted with missiles featured in the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball,[10] ridden by former road-race champion Bill Ivy as a stunt double, wearing a blonde wig to make him look like Bond girl Fiona Volpe, played by Italian actress Luciana Paluzzi. Volpe used the BSA to fire two rocket missiles and destroy Count Lippe's car, which was chasing Bond.[11]

A working missile launching system was fitted to the motorcycle but the explosion which destroyed the car was actually detonated remotely by stunt coordinator Bob Simmons.[12] The filming of the scene was recorded in a Ford Motor Company film A Child's Guide to Blowing Up a Motor Car that is on the Ultimate DVD edition of Thunderball.

In September 1965, the actual bike was exhibited at a Brighton motorcycle show held at the Metropole Hotel exhibition centre.[13]

Cinema film 'if....'Edit

A Lightning featured in the 1968 film 'if....' starring Malcolm McDowell who, as the main character 'Mick' – purporting to be a potential buyer of a motorcycle – proceeded to start the bike and ride out of the dealer's showroom on a reckless 'joy ride'.[14]

Boon TV SeriesEdit

A Lightning was extensively used in the British TV series Boon, shown from 1986. The bike (nicknamed 'White Lightning' by the protagonist Ken Boon, (played by Michael Elphick) contributed to the series' popularity for its 7-year run. Boon - who thought of himself as a modern-day Lone Ranger – would treat his Lightning as though it were his horse.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e Motorcycle Mechanics, August 1965, p.36/37, Leapaway Lightning. Road test by Editor John Houslander. Accessed 2013-12-14
  2. ^ Motorcycle Sport, June 1969, p.225 BSA factory full-page advert Accessed and added 2014-07-02
  3. ^ a b Motorcycle Sport, June 1969, p.226 BSA Lightning road test Accessed and added 2014-07-02
  4. ^ Clarke, R. M. BSA Twins - A50 & A65 Gold Portfolio. Brooklands Books Ltd. ISBN 9781855203372.
  5. ^ Motorcycle Sport, June 1969, p.226 BSA Lightning road test. "The catalogue describes the Lightning as a sports machine...". Accessed and added 2014-07-02
  6. ^ Motorcycle Mechanics, August 1965, p.36/37, Leapaway Lightning. Road test by Editor John Houslander. "Bulk of the Lightning production is said to be earmarked for the American market—and frankly we can't blame the Yanks for wanting them—they are the cream at the top of BSA's big bike production". Accessed and added 2014-07-02
  7. ^ "1969 BSA A65 Lightning". Archived from the original on 12 January 2009. Retrieved 14 January 2009.
  8. ^ Reynolds, Jim (1990). Best of British Bikes. Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 1-85260-033-0.
  9. ^ "1971 BSA A70 Lightning". Retrieved 25 June 2018.
  10. ^ Parker, Barry (November 2005). Death Rays, Jet Packs, Stunts & Supercars: The Fantastic Physics of Film's Most Celebrated Secret Agent. Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 138. ISBN 978-0-8018-8248-7.
  11. ^ "BSA Lightning Motorcycle (Thunderball)". Archived from the original on 8 January 2009. Retrieved 14 January 2009.
  12. ^ "BSA Lightning 007". Archived from the original on 21 November 2008. Retrieved 14 January 2009.
  13. ^ Motor Cycle, 9 September 1965, Brighton Show Edition. p.363. 'BSA, Stand 9'. "James Bond fan? Make a bee-line for the Beesa stand: that rocket firing twin from the Thunderball film will be there". Accessed 2013-08-26
  14. ^ Motorcycle Mechanics, August 1964, p.28, 'That's a GOOD IDEA! JOY–RIDERS "Owners of Triumph Tiger Cub machines can make their bikes harder to pinch...". Accessed 2013-12-01

External linksEdit

  Media related to BSA A65 Lightning Rocket at Wikimedia Commons